Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carter’s Book: The Lobby Strikes Back

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

I have been asking the same questions President Jimmy Carter raises in his new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” and LA Times article “How I See Palestine,” but I stood no chance of convincing most Americans for the simple reason of being an Arab.

During my graduate studies in the US, I noted how difficult it was for any, even in a university sanctuary, to debate, let alone criticize, Israel. It is suicidal, I was told, for politicians, writers, journalists, professors and even students, to ask the wrong questions about Almighty Israel. You may deny the existence of God, if you wish, but you will be crucified if you doubt the right of Israel to exist or the holy “pay me for life” arrangement with the budget-surplus state. Freedom of speech does have its limitations. Like any mafia, the Israeli lobby knows how to muscle and reward. They buy whoever is for sale and character assassinate anyone whose soul isn’t available. They think and operate with their bucks and guns. And they have plenty of both.

Please, don’t take my word for it; don’t even take the words of the Harvard study, “The Israeli Lobby,” or the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Maybe we are all conspiring against poor Israel and its poorer lobby. Let’s listen here to the words of a great American president who happened to be a world class peacemaker, observer and advocate. He is also the godfather of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords, the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement. And if his words are not enough, I’ll bring you, next week, powerful Israeli voices, including those of a former president and prime minister.

In the LA Times article, Carter reveals: “The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize policies of the Israeli government is due to the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

On the ways of the lobby, he discloses the open-secret unknown only to the American public: “It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians.”

Of the American “free” press compliance with the lobby, he complains: “What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land. Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that ‘he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.’”

The myth of the freedom of information, research and debate in academia is also visited by Carter. “My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors.”

So what is so wrong about the book that put the lobby on fire? According to its author, “the book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine’s citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine, to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers.”

Carter goes on to denounce the treatment of Palestinians, “In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the casualties on both sides.

He concludes, “The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.”


1 comment:

dswendig said...

Dear Dr. Khaled Batarfi,

I finished reading President Carter's book and your article at Aljazeera magazine this morning. As someone who has lived the majority of his life in the United States, I can tell you that what president Carter says is true. I have lived here since 1974 and in that time I have NEVER once seen anyone from the Palestinian side appear on any mainstream news show or program to express their point of view. What happens instead is that they have three or four pro-Israeli speakers on and then call it good. It is an absolute scandal and, in my opinion, violates journalistic ethics, not to mention qualifying as a form of lying.

But maybe there is a silver lining to this cloud. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq turned out to be a total disaster based on nothing but lies, I began to read on the inter-net about the Palestinian conflict, particularly the Palestinian side of it. I was shocked when I found out how the Palestinians are treated over there. I assure you I will never take what the Israeli government says at face value again, and I would like to think that other Americans are also starting to question what is really going on there. We all know that you can only lie so much before you get caught.

I thank you for your patience.

Dirk Swendig